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Making a gingerbread house
Photo: Robert Daly/Folio

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The gingerbread house and the magic of Swedish Christmas

As the snow lies heavy on the ground, Christmas in Sweden really is the most magical of times. Families gather in their homes to make gingerbread houses and other festive food.

Building a gingerbread house (or pepparkakshus in Swedish) is one of the most quintessential features of the run-up to Christmas in many Swedish families. The gingerbread is believed to have come to Sweden in the late 19th century, inspired by the Brothers Grimm and their legendary fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel.

Gingerbread men, gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses

Like gingerbread cookies and gingerbread men, gingerbread houses are made from very thinly rolled and carefully formed gingerbread. The houses are made to look magical with bright, colourful Swedish candy decorations and icing sugar used as snow on the doors, windows and chimney. The dough can either be homemade or bought ready to bake, and, depending on how ambitious (and imaginative) you are, you may also choose to buy a ready-made gingerbread house kit, or give your creativity free rein by making one of these fairly-tale houses from scratch. Nowadays, templates can be found online to make the process easier. 

So whether you’re a professional pastry chef, an enthusiastic amateur baker or someone who has never seen a gingerbread man before, this fun pastime is guaranteed to delight your children and keep the whole family busy. Merry Christmas, or, as the Swedes say, God Jul!  

Three festive Swedish food traditions

Lucia saffron buns

On 13 December Swedes celebrate Saint Lucia Day to mark the winter solstice. With the country shrouded in darkness, girls and boys wear white gowns and carry candles, singing songs to celebrate Saint Lucia, the bearer of light. One essential feature of the celebration is a sweet, saffron-flavoured bun, known as a Lucia cat (or lussekatt). Many Swedes bake their own lussekatter, typically shaping them like an “s” – to resemble a curled up cat – with two raisins used as eyes. 

Christmas ham

The Christmas ham (julskinka) sits proudly as the centerpiece of the Swedish Christmas feast (known as julbord, or Christmas table), eaten buffet-style on Christmas Eve. Swedes generally boil their julskinka, before covering it in mustard and breadcrumbs and finishing it off in the oven. Once cooked, the ham is placed in the cold, usually outside. By cooling it as quickly as possible, the moisture is trapped inside, keeping it juicy and delicious.

Pickled herring

No self-respecting Swede would ever serve less than three varieties of pickled herring (sill) on a julbord. Many make their own, buying herring in brine and adding spices and sauces. The most popular flavours include mustard herring (senapssill) and French onion herring (löksill). Wash it all down with a shot of aquavit or snaps. Skål!